By J. R. Dunn
November 4, 2010
The 19th century was the nursery for contemporary politics. Every form of modern political activity -- fascism, communism, socialism, liberalism -- has its roots in that epoch. (Yes, I'm fully aware of such figures as Locke, Burke, Madison, and Jefferson, but their work was hijacked and twisted all out of recognition, in large part by French revolutionaries and assorted German academics. Edmund Burke was so appalled by this that, having invented modern liberalism, he turned around and invented modern conservatism.)
Anything coming out of the 19th century is going to be imbued with rationalism, the dominant intellectual credo of the period. Rationalism has nothing to do with rationality per se; it is instead an ideology (note that "ism" -- always a giveaway) based on a severe simplification of Cartesianism, humanist doctrine, and the results of modern scientific research. For our purposes, rationalism can be defined as a reductionist doctrine holding that the universe and everything within it is a mechanism, governed by simple laws easily discovered, understood, and manipulated. A rationalist is a very smart individual who, if he doesn't know all the answers, can tell you where to get them. A political rationalist is all this and more, since political rationalism is the arena in which the limitations of the ideology first became apparent. Namely, rationalism, taken to its logical extreme (and how could it be otherwise?), leads inevitably to chaos, misery, and death on continental scales.